The opening gala event of the Sixth KKL-JNF World Leadership Conference (WLC), attended by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, ambassadors from many countries, and KKL-JNF world leaders, took place yesterday evening at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem. The event received prime coverage in Israeli media, especially because the Prime Minister chose to announce the appointment of the new Chief of General Security, Yoram Cohen, then and there.
Later on, Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke about the political situation in the Middle East and said, “Revolutions are happening in our region, but the question is where these revolutions will lead. The tradition of liberal democracy does not particularly characterize the countries in the region, except for Israel.” Regarding the Iranian threat, he said, “We must prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. This should be the main goal of the entire free world.”
The Prime Minister also stated that Israel is interested in adhering to the peace accords with Egypt and Jordan and seeks to make peace with the Palestinians. “Only peace that can be defended with appropriate security arrangements will be able to last. There is no peace without security, and we will never compromise on Israel’s security.” Prime Minister Netanyahu called for the Palestinians to recognize the State Israel as the homeland of the Jewish nation, to choose peace with Israel, and to refrain from attempts at unification with Hamas.
The Prime Minister also spoke about the Carmel fire. “Several months ago the Carmel went up in flames,” said Prime Minister Netanyahu, “and I knew that I could count on KKL-JNF to contribute its part in the major project of reforestation.”
He concluded his speech by personally addressing the KKL-JNF leaders. “I would like to thank all of you,” said Prime Minister Netanyahu, “for all you have done for the State, for all you are doing at present, and for all you will be doing in the future for Israel's benefit.”
KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler thanked the Prime Minister warmly for his words at the WLC and said, “The KKL-JNF representatives seated here are devoted Zionists. The purpose of the KKL-JNF WLC is that they all get together and think about how to continue contributing towards the future of the State of Israel.”
Stenzler noted that in the last four years KKL-JNF invested 1.5 billion shekels in various projects, and he announced an ambitious goal - to double the investment to 3 billion. The main fields of activity he enumerated included water sources, agricultural research, green energy, settlement, narrowing gaps in peripheral areas and strengthening the connection of Jewish youth in the Diaspora to the land of Israel. “We shall continue working together for the development of Israel for the benefit of the future generations,” declared Stenzler.
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AMBASSADORS TO ISRAEL
Ambassadors from many different countries participated in the special evening, including the American ambassador to Israel, Mr. James Cunningham, who noted: "KKL-JNF activities in the United States make for practical ties between different groups of citizens. This is besides the tremendous work they do for Israel's development. The Jewish community in the United States is large and diverse, and it helps create ties between different countries.
Regarding the KKL-JNF World Leadership Conference, the American ambassador said with a smile: "There are representatives here from all over the world, so maybe it should be called 'the KKL-JNF United Nations Conference' - just without all the political battles."
Ambassador Cunnigham is about to complete his tenure, and he summed up his term of office: "This was a wonderful time for me on a professional and personal level. I developed a profound love for Israel, not a particularly difficult thing to do."
Another representative participating in the event was the Egyptian ambassador to Israel, Mr. Yasser Rada. The Egyptian ambassador received a warm round of applause from the audience when he was introduced by Mr. Stenzler.
Mr. Constantine Alexrandriss, first secretary of the Embassy of Greece, spoke about cooperation with KKL-JNF: "The ties between our countries are growing tighter and I believe that agriculture, ecology and water are fields in which KKL-JNF can contribute a lot to us. In Greece, we are also dealing with problems of desertification, and there is certainly a lot of room for brainstorming and joint research."
Members of the Makuya movement, friends of Israel from Japan, a country experiencing particularly difficult times, were also very warmly received. Yirmiyahu Kado of the Makuya Center in Jerusalem: "The Makuya have supported Israel for years, and now, when we are in a difficult situation, you are supporting us. The government of Israel sent an aid mission to Japan, and I am receiving an endless amount of letters of support and empathy from the Israeli public. We have a lot to learn from Israel. KKL-JNF is an organization that can contribute a great deal to the ties between the Japanese and Israeli peoples."DONORS FROM ISRAEL
For the first time, donors from Israel who contributed towards many green projects throughout Israel for the benefit of people and the environment participated at the gala ambassadors evening. Guests included representatives of Google Israel, the Migdal Insurance Company and private donors.
Doron Avni, government contacts director at Google, described the ties forged with KKL-JNF through activities related to Carmel rehabilitation. Besides a financial contribution for forest rehabilitation, Google, together with KKL-JNF, established the "Green Mountain" website, which invites the public to post pictures of the Carmel from before the fire. "In this way, we can all experience how the forest was in the past, and how it will one day be again in the future," Avni said.
Zvi Weitzner contributed towards building a recreation area in the Carmel in memory of his wife Mina: "As residents of Denya, we would always go for picnics in the Carmel. Now we'll be able to take our grandchildren to the forest, enjoy nature and remember Mina."
Gal Birman of Yoqne'am donated a forest in Hazorea Forests. "Every weekend, the family goes to the forest together. Every time I even just think about it, it makes me feel good." KKL-JNF WORLDWIDE
South Africa: Amber Cummins, president of KKL-JNF South Africa: "We are one of the only countries that supports local projects, not just activities in Israel. This is our way of giving back to the community, and creating a better public image for Israel." Among other things, KKL-JNF South Africa operates a center for environmental education in the city of Mamalodi and has a unique project, in which residents of poor neighborhoods receive trees to plant in their private gardens. At the same time, KKL-JNF South Africa is partner to various projects in Israel, such as building water reservoirs.
Czech Republic: Michal Pakovsky, president of KKL-JNF – Czech Republic: "It is very important for us to explain to the residents of the Czech Republic what Zionism is and what KKL-JNF stands for. During the Communist regime, Zionism was a synonym for racism. We are trying to change that image." Pacovsky said that the Czech Republic has a small Jewish community of a few thousand: "Most of the KKL-JNF supporters in my country are not Jewish, but rather Christians who love Israel."
Uruguay: “KKL-JNF has been working in Uruguay for the past 85 years,” said Nadin Hakas, President, KKL-JNF Uruguay, “but a little over two years ago we created a new group of volunteers. Our principal project until now has been establishing Halohem Park in the Haruvit forest for the IDF handicapped. These days we are promoting a joint project with the Israeli Association for Autistic Children - the construction of a garden for the association’s new headquarters.” Hakas said that there are about 12,000 Jews in Uruguay, who live in isolated communities. KKL-JNF serves an important role in reinforcing the connections of community members to their Jewish identity and to the State of Israel.
Austria: “Our activities focus on working with the Jewish community,” said Lotte Meczes, Bureau Chief, KKL-JNF Austria, “for example, producing a major event on Tu Bishvat. We offer lectures for the sake of becoming more familiar with Israel and KKL-JNF activities. The Jewish school in Vienna will soon be arriving in Israel and will be participating in tree planting.”